The parrotfish (Scaridae) are among the most incredible of the 1,500 fish species that are found in some coral colonies like the Australian Great Barrier Reef. They have a distinctive color pattern and a bird-like powerful beak that gives them their avian name. But no one species of parrotfish is like the other when it is about looks, and there are 90 species in this family.
Parrotfish for large mixed schools with other species and over 30 types exist on the Great Barrier Reef alone. They can reach up to 4 feet and weigh up to 45 pounds.
Their names can be as colorful as their appearance and, while the stoplight sports an amber spot on the tail, the “bumphead” bears a protruding hump on its face. The “scribbleface” has iridescent orange, purple, and green patterns on its body.
But more than their looks, the parrotfish are treasured for their importance to the survival of coral reefs.
Importance Of The Parrotfish In The Survival Of The Corals
The diet of the parrotfish consists chiefly of algae that grow inside the coral polyps. To extract the algae, the parrotfish rip tiny portions of coral off the surface of the reefs and use their extensive rows of teeth to grind them up.
Contrary to the notion that they damage coral reefs, they instead help in their regeneration by getting rid of the algae that prevent bleached coral from recovering.
Also known by their scientific name, Scaridae, the parrotfish have deep bodies and a blunted head. The tightly arranged teeth on the external part of their jaws create a beak-like structure that is effectively used to chip at the surface of coral and scrape algae growing on it.
Based on their feeding habits, the parrotfish are divided into scrapers, excavators, and browsers. The excavators have the largest jaws, while the browsers primarily nibble at the surface and feed on surface algae and marine plants.
The Teethe Of The Parrotfish: Their Most Unique Trait
A scuba diver swimming along the Great Barrier Reef will not only get an unending canvas of colors and sights but will also get to hear some distinct sounds. And one of the most distinctive is the sound of parrotfish crunching on the coral They scrape at the hard corals and ingest the algae, microbes, and bacteria that thrive on the surface.
And they have some of the toughest teeth known to nature to do their job. Their incredible set of teeth are bonded to the jawbone and the material is harder than gold, silver, or copper.
Gorging On Coral And Excreting Sand
The food habits of the parrotfish are as distinctive as their excreta. They use their set of 1,000 odd teeth arranged in 15 rows to munch on the coral at an astonishing speed of 20 bites a minute. And what they excrete is just as remarkable.
The parrotfish excrete the digested remnants of the stony skeleton of a coral, and they contribute a lot to the white sand found on our reefs, and they even help form tiny islands. And the biggest parrotfish can produce an astonishing one ton of sand in a year.
A Gender Fluid Creature
The parrotfish alter their gender through their lives, transforming from female to male with time. The large brightly colored male defends the smaller group of females, who are mostly dull. The male supplies the sperm that is required for the younger females to fertilize their eggs. And these females grow into males and challenge the male for leadership of the group. And with this change is sex, their color changes too.
Sleeping In A Cocoon
Some species of parrotfish build a transparent cocoon of mucus that keeps them safe from parasitic isopods that attack the fish as they sleep. The layer is also helpful to mask their smell at night from their principal predators, the lemon shark, and the moray eel.